By Alan Hubbard
The man standing between Carl Frampton and a huge slice of ring history may sound like a minnow but Jamel Herring is no small fry. He is actually a rather big fish in boxing’s super featherweight pool, and has the bite of a shark.
The 35-year-old New Yorker holds the WBO title which he defends against Frampton when Frank Warren, fresh from his winning battle with Covid-19, resumes normal service with Queensberry’s BT-televised smash hit series of closed doors shows later this month.
It is a crunch contest for Frampton,33,who has held world titles at super-bantamweight and featherweight, as victory would make him Ireland’s first three-weight world champion and only the third Briton to earn the triple crown following Duke McKenzie and Ricky Burns.
Which makes Herring a prize catch – but he will be far from easy for Frampton to hook. For he is one of the most accomplished, popular and personable fighters in America even though few outside the sport’s cognoscenti over here may have heard of him.
The aptly named former US Marine sergeant is hailed as a hero for his active service as a gunner in two tours during the
Iraq war in 2005 and 2007, and now as a leading campaigner for those former servicemen and women who like himself have suffered severely from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
Twice a gold medallist in the American Armed Forces Championships, and a member of the US team at the London Olympics in 2012, he turned pro after returning from those Games. Despite two defeats early in his 24-fight career he claimed the WBO title claim a unanimous decision over the highly-rated Japanese Masayuki Ito on May 5 in 2019.
It was a particularly emotional occasion for him as the date was the birthdayof his late daughter Ariyanah, who passed away in 2009 as a result of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). She would have turned 10 on that day.
Some six months later, Herring recorded his first title defence in a tough fight with Lamont Roach during Veterans Day weekend.
“When you look at everything I had to go through and winning the title on my daughter’s birthday on Memorial Day Weekend,” then defending it on Veterans Day weekend all in the same year, was a huge honour.” says the articulate Herring.
Now Herring uses his platform and voice as a source of strength for others. His two tours of duty in Iraq’s – seven to eight months each in the desert – left the father of five with PTSD. His infant daughter’s death two years later only further scrambled his own mind set.
At the time, Herring, who has also has a brush himself with coronavirus didn’t know that he was suffering from the disorder.
“But when my family started to see the issues and the changes in my personality, that’s when I figured that I needed to get some help.”
That help served as a springboard to where Herring is now – still dealing with PTSD and the triggers that flare it, but equipped with ways to handle it and willing to share his story with the masses.
“I still deal with it, but I deal with it a lot better than I did a few years ago,” he said. “I got the proper counselling and help to actually speak out on it more. That actually helps out a lot, instead keeping everything built up inside.”
“If I could help save a life and help others do better in their lives, that right there makes me feel good inside,” he said.
“That’s a blessing and that’s one way that I deal with PTSD — just sharing my story, helping others and getting that great feedback.”
Boxing, too, has helped. He says it has been his solace. “Every time I get to the gym, I just leave my problems at the door,” he said. “I could just focus on something that I really love, and I just love the craft of boxing. Boxing has definitely been my outlet if I’m dealing with my issues.
“I will definitely continue to fight, for the cause and get my message across as much as I possibly can.
“The best piece of advice I’d give is to continue to fight, keep their head up and don’t be afraid to share your fears and issues with your fellow man because they also may be going through something similar.
“It takes a strong person to speak their mind and share their weak side because a lot of times people keep things to themselves and it’s too late. Tragedy finds them and we may lose a good man or woman because they didn’t get the proper help or stand out enough.
“If I could keep families together with less tragedy, I will definitely continue to fight,” Herring said, “and get my message across the board as much as I possibly can.”
Southpaw Herring is tall, fast and powerful. At 5ft 10in he will have a five-inch height advantage over Frampton. A big fish indeed. It really is a tough ask for the Ulsterman and the concern is that Frampton is a tad past his best and that the vitriolic legal battle with former mentor Barry McGuigan, though now settled, may have been a distraction during preparations for this fishing expedition at east London’s Copper Box on February 27.
So fingers crossed for Frampton. No-one wants to see him done up by a kipper!